Twelve months before
I zip up my jeans, disregarding the unknown blonde that smiles back at me, drunk by my mere presence. I stare at her with no feeling. No lust. No empathy. No respect. Not even her confused plea, that she thought we had something special, begging me to stay, has the tiniest of ripples over me. I got what I came for and my climax, ultimately, is also my anti-climax. Callously, I cast her aside as just another score to my ever growing list.
I slip my t-shirt back on and head out into the hallway. Half an hour ago, I couldn’t get her into this room quick enough, my body convinced she was the sexiest chick that ever walked this side of the River Mersey. Long legs that flex like a yoga instructor, tits that are way bigger than a handful and a mouth that will say and do anything I want. Less than ten seconds after I come, she is little more than the taste of garbage on my tongue.
The soft moans coming from the next two bedrooms leave nothing to the imagination, regardless that doors have been left open. No shame, naked bodies sprawled across the double beds, arses in the air. The third is a little more discreet. Dark, huddled figures, fully clothed, gyrate on chairs or in corners. This is definitely my kind of gig.
The room making the most noise is the kitchen. The table, sticky and already crowded with skimpy clad girls and bong-blown guys, houses a long line of lethal looking cocktails. I swipe the nearest glass and down the liquid in one gulp. It burns.
I hear my name being chanted as the taste of aniseed floods my mouth. My first guess is Absinthe. It dulls my senses for a few short seconds. I knock back another hoping I don’t fall prey to its hallucinogenic properties that had me up for thirty hours straight only a few months back. Two is my limit. Any more alcohol than that, intensifies my needs rather than strangles the big guy downstairs, unless of course I want to forget what I’ve done and who I am and then I usually wind up at the bottom of a tequila bottle until I pass out.
‘Hey, River, we’re going to borrow Simmo’s car. You wanna come for a spin?’
A distraction … just what I need. I’ve had my standard quota of girls tonight – three in total, enough to tie me over until tomorrow.
‘Yeah, why not.’ I follow Leo to the front door, nodding at familiar faces.
Three pairs of tits in short skirts block my exit. I haven’t had any of these girls tonight, but they’re the kind I usually go for. Gagging for a good time, no self respect, and none of them have red hair. ‘River, don’t go,’ they whine. A hand with glossy purple nail varnish slides up my arm to my shoulder. Then another hand creeps up my back to my other shoulder, then a hand on my back and one on my chest.
I grind my teeth. The temptation is hard to resist.
‘Hey, Taylor Lautner,’ shouts Leo. ‘Are you coming or not?’ His words have double meaning for me. I want to do both. I can be done with these girls in twenty minutes, if only he’d wait, but Leo hates waiting. When he wants to do something, you either do it or you get left behind.
The horn blasts from the car. Daniel McBride, Leo’s sidekick, and the only other person I call friend, is sitting in the front seat. ‘C’mon dude, ditch the bitches.’ His arm dangles out of the car window, his fingers busily picking at the paintwork of some guys’1985 beige cortina. He also doesn’t like to wait.
The first step away is always the hardest. Their fingers glide off my skin as I move away, my chest burning, my body fighting me every inch of the way. The only way I can leave, is to convince myself I can be back here in an hour if things don’t work out. They’ll still be here, and probably already spoiled, but beggars can’t be choosers as my father would say and sloppy seconds is better than none at all in my world. Then I can satisfy the devil living inside my skin, if I so desire.
‘Wait up,’ I yell back. I break contact with them. Air freezes around me and any warmth flushes away. I jog towards the car, my body still aching from my decision.
Daniel’s goofy grin widens every second I draw closer. ‘I don’t know how you do it, bro. You can get any girl you want, including my girlfriend, if she was here. I don’t understand it.’
‘It’s the eyes,’ says Leo.
Oh God. That’s not the first time I’ve heard that, besides I don’t know what Daniel is worrying about. He’s never short of a girlfriend. Quaffed hair, a streamline body and a Justin Bieber smile, is apparently all it takes these days to snag a chick and keep her for a few months. And Daniel is all that and a bit more, according to the female persuasion, and not mine. Poor, Leo, however, is not. He’s your typical joker, everyone’s best mate and prematurely going bald at twenty one. His crooked nose was the result of cricket bat and a very irate little sister. I am none of that either, but that doesn’t stop the nymphs from flocking around me all the time. My hair looks black when wet and just a few shades lighter when dry, and is easy enough to handle, but Leo’s right about the eyes. I would swap them for something a little less commandeering. Whoever said they are windows to the soul, are fuckwits. Eyes are trouble.
‘Me either,’ I lie. Lying is easy and comes naturally to me. I climb in the back.‘Where are we off to?’
‘Going to see a man about a dog,’ says Leo over his shoulder. That’s code for going to the Rasta’s lair to score. Leo isn’t big into it, mostly because living at home with his old gran, and working as a part-time lifeguard, means he doesn’t have the money for it. Occassionally though, when he’s won at the tracks, he liked to get high.
I zip up my jacket. Daniel does the same.
‘It’s February, Leo, for fuck sake, man.Why the fuck do we have the windows down when its minus four degrees outside? In case you hadn’t noticed, it isn’t exactly the Bahamas outside, you know.’
Leo doesn’t comment, probably because he can’t hear anything above his “doof doof” music which is breaching the Neighbourhood Watch’s after 10pm loud noise curfew.
Daniel shakes his head and mouths the word ‘dickhead’ to me as we speed along Chase Parade.
We turn onto a street, where most of the street lights are out, and pull up in front of a row of terrace houses.They’re a bit more up market than your standard council house terrace, but not by much. The only aspect that looks new is the highly polished black front door, with a large brass knob in its centre, and a set of stairs leading up to it.
I wish this was our destination, but it’s not.
The stairs leading down to a basement level, surrounded by a equally highly polished black railing is where the Rasta’s lair is.
Leo swings around in his seat. ‘You guys wanna wait here?’
‘No way,’ says Daniel, already reaching for the door handle, ‘I’ve always wanted to see inside there.’
I join them at the top of the stairs, finding no need to mention the huge boot print near the letterbox on the front door, or the warning that comes with the glowing red paintwork that could be a invitation to hell. Something tells me, this isn’t going to end well.
‘Can’t be too bad, if they’re playing reggae music.’
That is the dumbest thing I’ve heard Daniel say. To say he’s led a sheltered life is a massive understatement. His parents were devout Christians and Daniel, and his younger sister, Juliette, had been wrapped up in a life of Saturday and Sunday School, no mobile phones or Facebook and seven o’clock curfews until the day before his eighteenth birthday. One of the very first things he’d told me was he was surprised he’d even graduated puberty the way his mother had stunted his life. He’s more than making up for lost time.
Leo is first down the steps, me bringing up the rear. He knocks on the door twice before a giant of a man opens it. He’s bald, at least six six, and wearing an impressive two inch black spear through his bottom lip. His voice though, is surprisingly soft.
‘And you’re here to see …?’
‘Mandrell,’ says Leo confidently, ‘we’re here to see Mandrell.’ The giant opens the door wider and ushers us into a bright yellow hallway that glows like the inside of a canary. The place stinks of ganja and week old chicken masala.
‘This way.’ The giant leads us to the very end of the corridor and pushes us through a hanging, beaded doorway. ‘Wait here.’
People of all classes fill the room. A composed gentleman, wearing a suit and tie, stands in one corner chatting to a skanky brunette with holes in her stockings. A middle-aged woman, wearing an apron and slippers sits in an antique looking armchair, bouncing her knees up and down to my left as I come in. Some are totally out of it, slumped on the floor, whilst others nervously pick at their nails. The only light in the room comes from a seedy looking fish-tank that casts a fluorescent green glow, creating a zombie-like atmosphere.
I don’t care for these dropouts, but my attention snaps into gear the second I see the redhead standing in the corner. Fire seems to blaze down her back every time she shakes her head, regardless of the dim lighting. I hold my breath, not sure whether moving will stimulate her to look at me. Normally that’s all it takes. I’ve waited a long time for this moment, and as much as I want to indulge in it, and allow myself to completely submerge in her presence, I hold back.
As though she is suddenly aware of my presence, she spins around to face me.
Adrenal pools in my feet and the pounding in my chest ceases immediately.
‘Fuck,’ I mumble under my breath. It isn’t her. It isn’t the girl I’ve been dreaming about since I was ten years old.
Daniel frowns, not taking his eyes off me. ‘What’s up, bro?’
‘Nothing,’ I say, although it sounds more like a growl. Another letdown. I want to be out of here now. I want to go back to the party and take my frustration out on the three willing victims I’d left on the doorstep. A menage et trois plus one sounds cool. ‘How long is this going to take, Leo?’
‘Half an hour, at the most. Why? You got some place you need to be?’
Daniel raises his eyebrows at me. He knows where I’d rather be.
‘No, not really.’ The girl with the red hair, like most of the girls conscious in the room, are staring at me. I tune out, half-hating myself for the attention I’m creating, half-unintentionally driving the desire forward. In less than ten minutes, they won’t be able to stop themselves from coming over and slipping their phone numbers into the back pocket of my jeans or trying to persuade me to go home with them. Most have a cheap feel while they’re at it - just to make sure I’m real.
I’m counting seconds.
The giant is back and beckons to Leo. ‘Just you.’ Leo nods to us and follows the giant into another room.
A few seconds later, an irate voice comes from the same doorway ‘I said, get your fucking hands off me.’ A lad, my age, or perhaps a year or two younger, is being escorted out by the giant and his manhandling twin. Apart from the spear in his lip, the two are identical. ‘I know the way out, you fucking retards. You don’t have to drag me out by the neck.’ There’s a twang to his accent, not from around here, that’s for sure.
The two heavys’ let go of the boy’s shirt and drop him two inches to the floor. The boy re-adjusts himself and flicks back his blond hair. He stands there, looking around at everyone, a stupid, childish grin spreading across his face. First impressions … I think he’s a tosser and deserves everything he gets.
The redhead takes to him straight away, and he threads his arm around her waist and pulls her into him. ‘Where have you been hiding, gorgeous?’
I hate her even more. Giggling girls are fingernails down a blackboard for me.
‘Are you wearing contact lenses?’ she asks him. I don’t know why it interests me to hear what he has to say, but I find myself waiting for his response.
‘No, babe. They’re the real thing. Just like me.’
Yeah, tosser … just like I thought.
Wearing her like a scarf around his neck, he walks towards me, staring as though I’ve insulted him. I have to admit it, his eyes are kind of freaky in this low light. Grey orbs blazing like brand new five pence pieces, straight off the press.
He stops directly in front of me. ‘You alright there, mate?’ I’m about to tell him exactly what I think of him, when a scuffle and the sound of a door slamming down the hallway, immediately puts me on edge. I turn in the direction of the noise, hearing footsteps stampeding towards us. A bald man sporting a pink bandana, sweat dripping from his head and carrying a package under his arm appears at the doorway.
‘You guys better split. Cops are gonna be here any minute.’
Daniel and I make a dash for the door we just came in. ‘Don’t go that way, dude,’ says the man with the package. ‘They’re right behind me, and I pity whoever’s car that is out there. It’s just been impounded.’
‘Fuck,’ says Daniel, ‘we’re trapped.’